“I was surprised at how much we enjoyed playing and the audience was highly appreciative. So I decided to do a concert of this great music from the twenties to the forties with a classical twist.” ~ Michael Westwood
Get your advance tickets ($20) at BeMused Network!
The debut season of the Westwood Concerts series will be concluding this Thursday, July 10th at Heliconian Hall with a tribute to the 1920s-1940s era of swing and big band music. The concert will feature pieces by such familiar names as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. New arrangements featuring the clarinet will be performed by artistic director Michael Westwood. He came back to music after a long journey away, armed with a desire to share a vision of classical music performance that’s accessible, engaging, and fun.
Having originally completed his BA and MA in clarinet performance almost 10 years ago, Michael was all set to enter the world of classical music. He performed with groups and as a soloist and even directed two classical chamber groups, but didn’t feel entirely satisfied with the classical music world. He took a departure from music and traveled across to teach English for about two years. During this time he also became one of the few if not the only professional clarinetist to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro (though to be fair, he didn’t bring the clarinet up the mountain).
Once down from the summit and back from his time in Asia, Michael returned to the clarinet but ended up leaving music once more to pursue his other passion — personal fitness.
The world of fitness seems to have suited Michael well: He started out as a personal trainer but pretty soon — having been promoted three times in two years — ended up as the director of operations for a Toronto gym. During his six-year fitness career Michael also met Heather, the two got married and had two children. But the busy schedule didn’t leave Michael with much time for music.
“I think in these six years, I played the clarinet for maybe ten minutes,” he says.
So why come back to music now? Michael says that right around the time his gym was sold to another fitness company, he realized that neither his wife nor his sons had ever heard him perform. This seemed like a real shame, “so I got in touch with my colleagues in the music world to try and put together a concert,” he says.
The original plan was to organize a single concert, but getting back into performing felt like coming home, Michael says. He was able to reconnect with a number of old contacts from the music world, and the first season of Westwood Concerts was born.
While the first concert was mostly performed before family and friends, Michael says that the audience has been slowly changing as word spread of the new project. His family’s joy in hearing him perform big band music was the origin for the program for their final concert this season on July 10.
“I played at my father-in-law’s seventieth birthday party at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and my mother-in-law asked if I could play some big band tunes as these were some of his favorites,” Michael explains.
“I had never really played anything like this before as I was strictly a ‘classically-trained’ musician, but I decided to give it a try.”
“My pianist for this recital found a fake book and we prepared ‘Moonlight Serenade’ and ‘Sophisticated Lady.’ I was surprised at how much we enjoyed playing these songs and the audience was highly appreciative as well. My father had also been asking me to play music like this so I decided to do a concert of this great music from the twenties to the forties with a classical twist.”
I asked my good friend, pianist and arranger Greg Millar to do arrangements of some of these songs.”
Greg Millar is a good friend of Westwood, and also a talented pianist and arranger. His Raposa Millar Piano Duo has been a part of Westwood’s inaugural season, and he will make an appearance on the program and on stage for this concert.
This concert series has also given Michael a platform from which to commission and present new works: The March concert featured a new piece by Toronto composer and pianist Frank Horvat.
“Frank and I had known each other back at the U of T Faculty of music over fifteen years ago and he was one of the first people I had reconnected with. We had met for coffee to catch up and after chatting for an hour or so we agreed to collaborate on a project,” Michael says.
This project ended up being “If Not Us, Then Who?” which was premiered earlier this year in the series – a piece inspired by the current environmental crisis, a topic close to Horvat’s heart. It will be performed again at Musideum on July 12 with Westwood on clarinet.
Horvat is a composer-pianist that defies genre, and his musical project “The Frank Horvat Band” is rooted in indie, electronic, jazz and classical influences. He is already working on a new clarinet concerto for Michael, to be performed with the Greater Toronto Philharmonic in May 2015, which we can all look forward to.
It’s worth mentioning that Michael is not content to simply perform — he also has a clear artistic vision for all the musical projects that he’s a part of.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I like having control over what, where and how I play,” he says. Having already directed two concert series in the first part of his performing career, he is now further armed with the years of business experience gained from his fitness work.
Still wrapping up their first season, Westwood Concerts are building on the positive reception they’ve had so far. The 2014/5 season has already been announced and tickets are available for purchase. In addition to the four shows being organized by Westwood Concerts, Michael is already building up his solo career, with a handful of performances already lined up on his new website.
The growing performance schedule will doubtlessly require a rigorous practise regime, but there Michael has had some unexpected help.
“I would be sitting on the couch watching TV, when Malcolm, my eldest son, would come in and say, ‘daddy, you have to go practise now,’” he says. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse!